Iran is funding militias throughout the Middle East while turning its own people into paupers, Saudi Arabian Prince Turki Al-Faisal told CNBC Tuesday.
“I’ve described Iran in the past, and I think the description still fits, the leadership in Iran has developed into a paper tiger with steel claws,” he told CNBC Tuesday.
“The ‘steel claws’ are the militias that they have established throughout the Middle East, whether it’s Hezbollah (in Lebanon) or the Houthis (in Yemen) or the al-Abbas (a Shia militant group in Syria) or the various militias operating in Iraq and Syria whose main purpose is to further Iran’s influence and its domination of the areas in the Middle East,” he said, speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the Milken Institute summit in Abu Dhabi.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are rival religious and political powers in the Middle East. Relations between the Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Shia-dominated Iran have hit rock-bottom in recent years with civil wars in Yemen, Syria and Iraq seen as proxy wars between the two countries. Iranian support for the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Taliban in Afghanistan, in the form of weaponry and military training, have also made Iran a pariah on the global stage.
A sluggish economy, made worse by recently re-imposed U.S. sanctions, and rising food prices have also fueled civil unrest and demonstrations against the government.
Al-Faisal likened Iran to a “paper tiger” because he said poverty and protest were rising in the country and the government was a “dysfunctional” one. He said he didn’t know whether there would be regime change in Iran but hoped U.S. sanctions would change the leadership’s conduct.
“I think it would be premature to try to predict anything of that sort but … they’re (the Iranian administration) is turning its people into paupers instead of providing them with health services, with food and with things people look forward to … I hope with President Trump’s sanctions we’re going to see a change in the conduct in the leadership in Iran. The Iranian people are the first victims of this leadership.”
It has long been feared that animosity between Saudi Arabia and Iran could lead to open warfare and there are reports of both sides developing and testing ballistic missiles.
Al-Faisal said he couldn’t comment on reports that Saudi Arabia is building ballistic missiles at secret locations in the desert. “I have not seen any official comment on them so I can’t really comment on whether missiles are being developed or not.”